Digital Asset Taxonomy: 6 Best Practices for your DAM

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September 14, 2022
Digital Asset Taxonomy: 6 Best Practices for your DAM

Taxonomy is the backbone of a digital asset management system, and a well-designed taxonomy can boost productivity and make assets easier to find. Take a look at a few ways to make sure you build a strong, reliable taxonomy for your digital assets.

What is digital asset taxonomy?

To put it simply, a taxonomy is just a way of classifying assets.

Imagine a home with three roommates. The roommates inventory all the items they own together, listing who owns what and where the items are located in the house. They create a list that looks a little like this:

 

Item

Owner

Location

Mixer

Pat

Kitchen

Jewelry Box

Alex

Alex’s room

Weights

Chris

Basement

Even though it’s a simple one, this list is the start of a taxonomy. It classifies assets based on specific characteristics. While taxonomies usually get more complicated than this, the list does what a taxonomy should—it gives context to assets.

The categories in the list above represent metadata. They provide information that describes the asset. For example, if the mixer is the asset, the owner and the location are the metadata that describe it. This works the same for digital assets. A photograph can be an asset, and the photographer’s name, the place it was shot, the date it was created, and so on are the metadata.

Best practices for digital asset taxonomy

The difference between the roommates taxonomy example and an enterprise taxonomy is one of scale. The bigger the organization, the more time and effort it takes to create and maintain its taxonomy. With these strategies, you can build a taxonomy that brings order to your digital assets.

   1. Review what you already have

A strong taxonomy takes research. Collecting information lets you make informed decisions about what terms to use and how to structure your system. Here’s some of the information you should collect before you dive in. 

  • Inventory your assets: Survey representatives from different departments to identify the assets you plan to import or organize in your DAM. 
  • Check file-naming conventions: The file names you already use might translate well into terms within your taxonomy. 
  • Look at searches that had no results: A popular search term that isn’t producing results can show you a gap in your taxonomy or your existing inventory of assets.
  • Collect existing search logs: Check them to see what your users are already doing in your system and what terms they’re using. See what terms are frequently searched. Those terms could represent preferred search terms down the line. 

   2. Find out what terms your enterprise already uses 

Though your enterprise might not have a full DAM taxonomy in place, it probably has the beginnings of one based on your organizational structure. Look for:

  • Lists of departments
  • Common topics for your organization
  • Names and consistent descriptions of products and services
  • Other specialized terms that exist within your organization

Enterprise-wide organizational spreadsheets or style guides can get you started here. Though the results most likely won’t be enough for a complete DAM taxonomy, they’re a good jumping off point.

 

WWF Brand Book

 

Depending on your industry, you may also find an existing taxonomy you can use. If you find a thesaurus that matches your industry, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Here are a few examples of taxonomy that could inspire your digital asset thesaurus:

If you don’t see the taxonomy you want above, visit bartoc.org. Bartoc stands for Basic Register of Thesauri, Ontologies & Classifications. It’s a searchable database of Knowledge Organization Systems (such as controlled vocabularies). For instance, you could enter the term “finance” in BARTOC and find an impressive list of vocabularies, thesauruses, and so on that relate to that field.

Image of bartoc.org

   3. Think about who will use your system

Consider the different kinds of users who will use your DAM and the different kinds of terms they use.

Knowing who will need to access the DAM and how they think is key to creating a taxonomy — or group of taxonomies — that are intuitive for your audience.

Talk to different types of users about how they search for information. What factors are important to them when they search (locations, dates, and so on)? Do they have department-specific terms that they’d want included? What are their priorities? These interviews will help you develop taxonomies that work for your entire enterprise and for individual departments or groups of users.

   4. Make use of synonyms and non-preferred terms 

Let’s say our roommates above disagree about what to call the basement. One of the roomies calls it a cellar. In this case, cellar could be considered a synonym —  another word that means the same thing as basement. And while the people in our example might remember that “the basement” is the same as “the cellar”, in an enterprise, that isn’t a practical expectation.

In this case, basement is the preferred term you’d like to use in your taxonomy. Typically it’s the term your users should utilize most often. However, you can—and should—enter terms you don’t want used in the system. 

These synonyms can be set to redirect a user to your preferred term. So say a person searches for “TV”, and your preferred term is “television”. You can tell your DAM to return results for television, even though that wasn’t the search term the user chose.

This lets you set one term as the lead term in your taxonomy without leaving out users who don’t think of that term. Using synonyms will improve search results without cluttering your thesaurus with too many similar terms.

Some DAM managers even allow users to add tags to assets. Those tags can be reviewed by DAM managers later on. This allows the DAM taxonomy to grow organically and evolve to match the changing vocabulary of the organization. 

   5. Test the UX

Interviewing users is only a start, though. To create a taxonomy that works well for your users, you need to run user experience (UX) tests. Even simple UX exercises can help you find information your users might not think to share. 

Start with an exercise like card sorting. Card sorting is a user test where you put a series of terms onto cards or Post-It notes. You then ask users to put the terms into logical groupings. The test lets you see what user priorities are and how they think when they’re grouping information. A UX test can also help you establish important categories within your taxonomy.

Take a look at this tutorial from CareerFoundry for more details. While it focuses on website design, the technique works well for designing DAM taxonomy as well.

 

After you’ve developed a draft for taxonomy, you can come back to testing. Ask users to search for assets in your DAM and let you know what they think. You could even create a form for reporting gaps or other issues in the taxonomy. Make sure your reporters share their department, so you can see if a specific departmental taxonomy is working well or needs improvement. 

These reports can help you see where assets might need to be moved, where you may need a different preferred term, or where you may need to add synonyms. It may take a few rounds of testing to get a system that matches your users’ needs, but in the end you’ll have a clear, easy-to-search taxonomy.

   6. Keep Auditing

A taxonomy is a living system—not a one-time exercise. In order to keep it up to date, you have to continually audit your system. 

  • Create workflows that make it easy for users to add new terms and keep the taxonomy current.
  • Set an audit schedule so you can regularly review your DAM taxonomy and see how it’s working for users.
  • Review search logs to see what new and different terms users are looking for. Also check to see which categories are popular. This will let you see if your preferred terms and hierarchies make sense for your users. It can also highlight terms your users expect to find, but aren’t finding in your system.
  • Look at usage reports to see how many people are using the DAM regularly and which users are power users. Sometimes, users will abandon a DAM if they can’t find what they are looking for. If one department is overrepresented in usage reports, that can be a sign their assets are overrepresented in your DAM. That might lead to other departments having trouble finding their own content. 
  • Check asset engagement. Find out which assets are accessed most frequently or least frequently. How are these tagged? Is there a pattern among popular assets? 

What next?

If you start off right with a strong taxonomy, and allow it to grow with your organization, your DAM will provide a quick, valuable search experience for your users far into the future. 

Your digital asset management system can make it easier to implement the taxonomies your users need. Find out how Cortex allows you to create multiple taxonomies that you can easily audit and develop to fit your organization and its needs.